Movie Friday: What God Said

I don’t really understand why it is that people can say the most evil things imaginable and have it excused as long as they claim divine warrant. You can call for genocide, rape, murder, mutilation, and condemn people as freely as you like, provided you are a man or woman “of God”.

The problem is that God is simply a reflection of what is inside us. When someone says “God hates fags”, they are saying “I hate fags”. When they say “the word of God says that a woman is the property of a man”, they mean “I don’t see women as human beings.” When they say “God wants us to have sex through a sheet with special underwear”, they’re saying… well actually I have no clue where that one comes from.

The remarkable thing isn’t that people will project their inner hatreds and mental problems onto a fictitious third party. That’s actually a fairly normal human quirk. The remarkable thing is that people actually listen to these clowns who claim to speak for the Almighty. If He really was almighty (assuming He even exists, which He doesn’t), he could speak unequivocally for himself; He wouldn’t need to go through puny, fallible, easily-duped humans.

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Divine Law

It seems like it’s been forever since I enjoyed a solid bashing of religion (note: it has been, in fact, 3 weeks). My apologies for those readers who like me to get up on my soapbox and stick it to the religious establishment – it seems as though it’s been racial topics swimming around in my brain for a while. I’d apologize to those of you who are fans of my free speech stuff, but statistics suggest that you don’t exist :P.

A common complaint about anti-theists like myself is that we rail against a type of religiosity that nobody really believes in. After all, the complaint goes, most religious people just want to keep to themselves and exist quietly without harming anyone. Who am I, therefore, to rail against the evils of their religion? They don’t force their beliefs on me, so why should I try to force my non-belief on them?

Of course every anti-theist reading those words has just breathed a tired sigh and rolled their eyes for emphasis. It is, of course, not at all the case that religious people just want to be left alone to worship in peace. Anyone who thinks that is either not paying attention or finds the lie more comforting than the truth (but Crommunist, why can’t it be both?). Religious believers are constantly agitating for their beliefs to be mandated as laws that apply to believers and nonbelievers alike. The entire story of the gay rights, women’s rights, and black civil rights movements are perfect historical examples of religious people staunchly refusing to keep their beliefs to themselves.

How about some non-historical examples?

Hindu scripture order prompts row in Karnataka state 

Opposition parties and minority groups in India’s Karnataka state are angry that the Hindu scripture, Bhagvad Gita, must be taught in schools. The state authorities recently directed schools to teach the Hindu holy book for three hours a week. Education Minister Visveswara Hegde Kageri said that those who did not want to learn the Gita should leave India. Opponents of the move say that the state government order violates their constitutional rights.

So the funny thing about India is that they’re supposedly a secular country. But according to the education minister, it is only those who “want to promote religious ideologies of foreign countries” that believe that secularism includes the right to be free from religious indoctrination in public schools. I wonder if Minister Kageri knows that Hinduism has its origins in a foreign country too. Probably not. After all, that would require him to have the same quality secular education that I had, rather than the feeble interference of a backwards theocracy. Because it’s clearly too much to ask that the education minister be, y’know, educated.

Indian politicians place disagreements ‘before god’ 

Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has been accused by opposition leader HD Kumaraswamy of corruption. Mr Kumaraswamy has threatened to expose land scams allegedly committed by Mr Yeddyurappa, in addition to accusing the chief minister of trying to “buy” his silence on the matter through intermediaries. In reply, Mr Yeddyurappa has rubbished the allegations as “humbug”, and has challenged his rival to stand before Lord Manjunatha and repeat his charge. Mr Kumaraswamy has accepted the challenge.

Okay, I have to confess that this one is just hilarious. First of all, the guy accused of corruption is called “BS”. Second, it happened in the same place as the Gita fight above, which suggests that these aren’t exactly the most… shall we say ‘enlightened’ people on the planet. Third, he actually used the word “humbug”. Fourth, he used it right before he challenged someone to swear his truthful nature in front of a god, as though he has no idea what the word ‘humbug’ means. At least his colleagues have the good sense to be embarrassed by this whole state of affairs.

Malaysian ‘teapot cult’ woman loses Islam legal bid 

Malaysia’s civil court has refused a woman permission to leave Islam to avoid being jailed for apostasy. Kamariah Ali, 60, says she should not be tried under Islamic law because she is no longer a Muslim. She follows the Sky Kingdom sect, known as the teapot cult because it built a giant teapot to symbolise its belief in the healing purity of water. But judges ruled that only Malaysia’s Islamic courts could decide on the case because Ms Kamariah was born a Muslim. Malaysia’s Islamic courts have authority over only Muslims – the rest of the population are not bound by their rules.

Where’s my ‘lolwut’ pear?

So apparently in Malaysia, there are two things that are true. One is that you can be assigned a religious belief by the courts. The second is that there are people that actually worship a teapot. Betrand Russel must be spinning in his grave.

Here’s the problem: while these stories are all hilarious examples of people doing stupid stuff because of their wacky superstitions, they’re all being taken seriously by the legal system. Instead of being justifiably bounced out of court or laughed out of office, the wacky “personal beliefs” of the people involved are actually granted the status of law. Why is this problematic? Well, aside from the fact that a secular state isn’t supposed to get involved in matters of faith, religious beliefs have no mechanism by which truth can be demonstrated. The only standard by which the ‘correctness’ of religious practice can be established is by sincerity of faith. I have no doubt whatsoever that Minister Kageri, Minister Yeddyurappa and the court presiding over Ms. Ali sincerely believe in the positions they are advocating. That doesn’t change the fact that from a neutral (read: scientific) standpoint, they’re all wrong.

Seriously? A teapot?

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The people you meet when you talk about race

Note: This article is cross-posted over at Racialicious.

If you’ve ever glanced at the links on the sidebar of this page, you may have noticed that I link to a *shudder* tumblr account. Yes, my guilty little pleasure is a fantastic tumblr called ‘STFUconservatives‘. It’s a sort of clearing house for random clips of stupidity that fall from the lips and fingers of conservative (mostly) Americans. Most of it is the kind of run-of-the-mill myopia and lack of critical thinking that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing from those on the right (and to be sure, there is a STFUliberals site – it’s somewhat less populated), but every now and then they put up little gems like this one:

The People You Meet When You Write About Rape

Mr. What About The Men
“The real problem here is all these false rape accusations that are destroying our society! 90 million men are falsely accused of rape every second! A woman just has to sort of mumble a word starting with ‘r’ and a man instantly gets a life sentence! There are no instances on record of a woman actually being raped!”

Ms. Tough Girl
“If women would learn martial arts–70-year-olds and women with disabilities can do this if they put their minds to it, darnit–and carry weapons everywhere, no one would ever get raped! All you have to do is be ready to threaten your own friends and lovers with lethal force at any moment, any anyone who can’t do that must be weak or something.”

There’s a list of 14 examples with a bit of snark sprinkled in for good measure. Now if this blog was a lot more popular, I’d get a lot more comments and thus would have a lot more examples to show you, but I’ll try and condense my few years of having these conversations into a similar list. And so, for your amusement, here are…

The People You Meet When You Write About Race

Mr. History
“Black people were enslaved like a million years ago. They’ve had enough time to  get their act together, but they’re still whining about their problems. I don’t want to hear about transgenerational wealth gaps and discriminatory hiring practices! Their problem is that they’re lazy! Case closed!”

Ms. Kumbayah
“We need to recognize that everyone is just the exact same on the inside. Why do we bother using labels like “black” and “white” anyway? Even though the way society treats people falls along racial lines to the detriment of some and benefit of others, we should ignore that! Aren’t we all just members of the human race?”

Mr. Hear No Evil
“It’s people like you that are the real racists! Most people don’t think twice about someone else’s race! Talking about race is what makes racism happen, not entrenched ideas that won’t change unless they’re discussed!”

Ms. Myopia
“I’m a black person, and I haven’t ever felt mistreated because of it. Therefore, nobody else has any business complaining about racism – I’m living proof that it doesn’t exist!”

Mr. Funk & Wagnalls
“Here is the dictionary definition of racism. You can see right here that it describes only one small subset of behaviour. You have no business advocating that the definition of a word change to fit a changed environment of racist behaviour, even if it still describes the old racism. You must adhere to this one definition always!”

Ms. Minimizer
“Sure, racism used to be a big problem, but there’s lots of black people in prominent positions these days. Can’t we stop talking about racism like it’s still a big issue? The President is black, and clearly nobody has any problem with that! Don’t we have more important things to talk about?”

Mr. Liberal White Guilt
“White people are the worst! You’re absolutely right. I am a white person, and I just feel so awful every time I hear about what my people are doing to yours. We need to start fixing the problems in the black community. After all, that’s what we do – go into other communities and solve their problems!”

Ms. Mythology Kook*
“White people are the worst! You’re absolutely right. I am sick and tired of watching the white man destroy us. It’s time to rise up and take to the streets. Until we show them that the black man is the original man, and that white people are an ancient genetic experiment to create a human being without a soul, we’ll never achieve true freedom.”

Mr. Bootstraps
“I’m so sick and tired of people talking about ‘white privilege’. My father was an immigrant from Switzerland, and he had to struggle just like everyone else to make money. His life was tough – you call that privilege? I didn’t get a handout from anyone, and neither should anyone else!”

Ms. Interpretation
“Affirmative action? Isn’t that just where white people aren’t allowed to have jobs because they’re all saved for less-qualified minorities? That’s just slavery but in the other direction – reverse slavery! My cousin knows a guy whose brother didn’t get into his first-choice college, possibly because of affirmative action – racism against white people is the biggest problem nowadays!”

Mr. Conspiracy
“Of course you’d say that – the NAACP has been pushing that lie since they were formed! This whole ‘anti-racism’ thing is just a way of taking white people’s hard-earned money and putting it into welfare programs and health care. It’s how black people are planning on getting reparations!”

Ms. Extraterrestrial
“You monkeys are just mad that you’re genetically inferior to our master race! Once our society, which was created by white people, shakes off this liberal brainwashing, we’ll finally be able to send you animals back to where you came from. Get over it – white people are just superior!”

But I would be remiss and completely unfair if I didn’t mention…

Mr./Ms. Has Been Listening
“This topic made me really uncomfortable when I first started talking about it, but I’m glad I did. I’m not sure if I ‘get’ everything, but my thinking has definitely changed. Here are some reasonable objections and questions that I have, and I hope we can talk about them without offending each other.”

I am really happy to report that while I have personally met all of the above people, Has Been Listening is by far my most common interaction. All of the above are conversations I relish having, and it is my fervent hope that I am slowly equipping you to navigate those waters as well as I could. As I’ve said all along, the more talking we do, the more we learn.

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*A commenter over at Racialicious has taken me to task for originally calling this “Ms. Black Nationalist Kook”. She was right to do so, since the attitude is orthogonal to Black Nationalism. I have made this revision, with an apology to my Nationalist sisters/brothers who I have mischaracterized.

I get e-mail

Regular readers will remember a couple of weeks ago when I went to Amsterdam and stuck it to the reactionary jerk-offs that wanted to burn one of my favourite books. Well I dedicated that post to the author, Lawrence Hill. Mr. Hill’s books have been a major source of inspiration for me both as a writer and as someone interested in race. I sent him a copy of my post, thinking that he’d appreciate knowing that his fans aren’t down with the whole ‘book burning’ thing:

My name is Ian Cromwell, and I am a big fan of your work. You can certainly understand how dismayed and enraged I was when the group in the Netherlands threatened to burn your book over something as silly as misunderstanding the title. I share your outrage over book burning, as I am myself a staunch supporter of free speech as a fundamental right and key to our cultural survival.

I was recently in Amsterdam for a conference, and I took the opportunity to visit the same park where the book burning took place. I brought my own copy and took a couple of pictures, as basically a one-finger salute to the Philistines that think that fire is an appropriate response to disagreement in this century (without bothering to read first, clearly).

They’re up on my website (http://crommunist.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/this-post-is-for-lawrence-hill/). If you would like copies of them, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am looking forward to your next book, and cannot fully express my appreciation for the way your work has helped clarify some feelings I always had but couldn’t really put into words.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Cromwell

I was pleasantly surprised when I got this response:

Hello Mr. Cromwell,

Thanks so much for your words (and photos) of support, with regard to those who were burning the cover of my book in  The Netherlands.  It meant a lot to me to hear from you, and from others who were equally appalled to learn that Mr. Groenberg was planning to burn the book in Amsterdam. I join you in your feelings about freedom of speech as a fundamental right and key to our cultural service (although I would draw the line at hate speech). You probably know that I wrote an opinion piece for The Toronto Star about the book burning:

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/1012068–what-lawrence-hill-tells-dutch-group-planning-to-burn-his-book

If you are willing to send a photo or two to me, for my own personal archives, I would be very grateful.

Wishing you all the best with The Crommunist Manifesto! Great title for a blog!

Sincerely,

Lawrence Hill
[email protected]

In the common parlance of the internet, squeeee! While I think we’d have a lot to hash out with regards to our stances on hate speech, I’m really happy that he wrote me back. I’m going to see if I can parlay this into an interview someday.

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Cynicism giving way to optimism

In my earlier post today I mentioned in passing that I was cynically optimistic about some of the changes I’ve seen in how governments in Canada think of and behave toward First Nations communities. I think when I wrote that I fully intended to explain what I meant, but for whatever reason (read: laziness) I didn’t. I’ll take this opportunity to do just that.

I am all for governments, corporations and other large, powerful entities doing the right thing. I think it’s fantastic when an oil company pledges to clean up a spill, or when a politician crosses the partisan divide to vote for something that is ethically right, even if it isn’t expedient with her base. I’ve tried to be mostly fair with the Catholic Church when it does things that are in line with secular morality. However, in each and every one of those cases, I am immediately suspicious of the motive behind the action. Is the oil company trying to cover up the fact that it caused the spill? Is the politician trying to brand herself as ‘centrist’ or curry favour with a power interest group? Is the Catholic Church not raping children anymore, or just trying to get people to stop equating “Catholic priest” with “child rapist”?

In light of my cynicism (which I think is reasonable and justifiable), it can be hard to get too optimistic about things. To be sure, I am generally optimistic that life will get better over time – that has been the story of humankind throughout history. However, whether a specific story represents a genuine step forward for society or a clever act of obfuscation is a judgment call I often have a difficult time making.

For example, this:

After years of conflict, including a Supreme Court of Canada battle, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation of northwest British Columbia signed a land and resource management and shared decision-making agreement today with the provincial government — the first of its kind in B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the agreement creates 13 new protected areas and provides resource development opportunities and investment certainty in more than three million hectares in the Atlin Taku region. She added that is the size of all of Vancouver Island.

<snip>

“We are emerging from a dark period in our history with hope and promise,” said Taku River Tlingit First Nation spokesman John Ward. “It’s so great to come out of the darkness and silence we’ve experienced for so many years and be acknowledged.” Ward said the land use agreement gives aboriginals a say on how industry “can access and conduct themselves in our traditional territory.”

It is my cynicism that is preventing me from jumping up and down and doing cartwheels all around my apartment right now (well, that and the fact that I have never been able to do a cartwheel). This kind of thing is exactly how not only the political system is supposed to work, but the legal system. The courts are supposed to overrule the government when it acts in its own best interests rather than those of its people. First Nations people should control their own lands and not only have a stake in how they are managed, but to reap the benefits of resource exploitation. This deal is likely to mean infrastructure and industry jobs for people living in the region – if these positions are structured properly it could mean real long-term development and sustained economic strength in the region.

That’s the optimist in me talking. Considering the number of First Nations bands that have complained about corruption in their leadership, and considering the ease with which groups that have abundant resources but little education on how to manage them get exploited by multinational interests, my inner optimist is losing the arm-wrestling match to my inner cynic. Until we see a sea change in the way we think of First Nations issues, and how First Nations communities are supported/encouraged to grow, I don’t see this as resulting in anything more than more money in the hands of a few people while the general quality of life remains unchanged.

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First Nations push for political action

Once again my apologies for not posting on time this morning. I am still working through a backlog of stuff at home and at work that has piled up as I’ve been on the road. I will endeavour to have these posts up on time for the rest of the week, but my ‘free time’ is not yet my own. I really do appreciate your patience.

Despite lack of evidence to the contrary, I am acutely aware of the fact that this blog only really ever discusses racial issues along black and white lines. I don’t mean that I look at these issues as clear right and wrong, but that I tend to focus on issues that are centred on black and white people. This isn’t an accident – this particular divide is the one I am the most familiar. Growing up the way I did, the black/white dichotomy is the one that has been the most apparent to me my whole life. My bias towards this issue is not simply borne of familiarity, but from recognition of the fact that I can comment on these communities as an insider. It is not so for other racial/ethnic communities in Canada, and in the interest of letting people tell their own stories I often watch pitches go by when I think I could do more harm than good if I swung at them (N.B. – the last time I played baseball I was in high school).

I have, for a few years now, theorized that there is much that unites the black and First Nations communities in North America. Despite our disparate histories, First Nations face many of the obstacles that black people faced in the mid-20th century. Public perception of First Nations people is often negative, and their problems are blamed on their own lack of “personal responsibility” rather than a product of the evident systemic abuses that stretch back through history. To be sure, the problems facing First Nations communities are unique, and so are their solutions, but there is enough commonality in my eyes to justify feeling a sense of kinship.

None of this is to say that I feel qualified to express an opinion on issues facing First Nations communities, only to say that I react viscerally when I read things like this:

Nearly three-quarters of first nations in Canada rely on water systems that are classified at a medium or high risk of not meeting safety standards, a national study finds. The independent report examined the drinking water and wastewater systems on nearly 600 first nations. Just over one-third were classified in the high risk category.

You wake up in the morning, you brush your teeth, maybe you take a shower. You cook some breakfast, you head to your job or your school. No big deal, happens every day, for millions of Canadians. Except for those Canadians that don’t have access to clean water. It’s chilling to think about how fundamental access to clean water is. For the vast majority of Canadians, we live in circumstances that allow us to take clean water for granted. So much so, in some cases, that we actually think it’s reasonable to look with disdain on the water we do have and pay billions of dollars a year for a bottled version of the same product.  Not so if you’re a member of a First Nations band.

Does everyone remember the major crisis over water safety in Walkerton, Ontario a few years back? We were all dumbfounded, myself included, to learn that regulation had slipped to such an extent that in one of the very few countries in the world that can really describe itself as “first world”, people were dying of contaminated water. There can be no safety, no development, no security, and certainly no trust in the government, when there is no access to clean water. It’s fundamental to how we live. And apparently, we’ve been dragging our heels on providing it to a particular group of Canadians. Encouragingly, the problem seems to be one of capacity – lack of training in how to use a water system – than one of contamination. I call this encouraging because it is a clear problem with a clear and simple solution, something that is usually quite rare.

The larger issue, however, is the level of inattention with which we (as non-Aboriginal Canadians) treat our First Nations sisters and brothers. I am cynical, yet hopeful when I see signs that the story might be changing for the better:

Canada’s aboriginal leaders are calling for co-operation between the premiers and the federal government on social and economic issues. Aboriginal communities need help coping with emergencies such as flooding and forest fires, the leaders said at talks in Vancouver, where provincial and territorial premiers are holding their annual Council of the Federation meetings. In prepared remarks to the premiers, Shawn Atleo, national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, called the issue of crisis and emergency management “urgent,” given the flooding and fires in 2011 alone.

I don’t know much about Shawn Atleo as a person, but his and my politics when it comes to these issues are very much in line. He is not afraid to point out failures in the system, but his proposed solutions are not simply “more funding”:

The communities need resources and training in emergency management along with long-term security plans so they can better respond to a crisis, Atleo said. This would include “major work,” like permanent dikes in areas prone to flooding, road upgrades, and evacuation centres. Temporary housing would also be required for those forced out of their homes.

What he is talking about is a level of response that is commensurate with the level of crisis, which sounds completely fair to me. Above that, though, he’s pointing out the need for training and capacity building – help us help ourselves. That has to be the approach with any marginalized community – not because it’s politically expedient but because it is the only long-term solution to the problems that face those communities. Where I step off the conservative talking points is that I think that the government should be more engaged in this process – not less.

To bring it back to my original point, I am uneasy about making pronouncements about what is best for First Nations communities in Canada. God knows they’ve experienced enough cases of outsiders coming in and trying to dictate their best interests. I will, however, never hesitate to stand up and shout my disapproval when my government fails to protect my fellow Canadians, or my approval when someone articulates something that I think is a good idea. Issues facing the minority only start to get fixed when they are seen as problems by members of the majority.

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You’re not “a racist”; you’re just racist

This past weekend I was chatting with a friend of mine about a variety of topics, including the tragic shootings in Norway. He was trying to establish that the event was an isolated incident by one crazy person, while I was suggesting that those kinds of things don’t happen in a vacuum. I pointed to a parallel argument I had when it comes to hate groups like Blood and Honour – the extremists are often the outliers of a group that holds similar views but would stop short of violence.

His response was fairly typical: “well there are always going to be some racists out there, but that doesn’t mean everyone is responsible.”

He was wrong, for reasons that I discuss in the linked post above, but it was the language he used that particularly irked me. “Some racists” is not a phrase I could ever see myself using, except in an unthinking moment. Not only is it an unwieldy phrase that could be convicted for abuse of the English language, it tips its hand as to how deeply the speaker misunderstands the origins and mechanisms of racism. I’ve touched on this discussion before, but I would like to talk explicitly about why this phrase is either a) meaningless, or b) profoundly ignorant.

First, we must revisit our operational definition of racism. Please note that I am using the term ‘operational definition’ intentionally – I use this definition for my own purposes, but it means many different things to different people. I think that my definition is the most accurate I’ve come across (obviously), but others would disagree. The chief component of my definition is that racism happens when attitudes or beliefs about a racial group are ascribed to an individual. Essentially, it makes the assumption that a person’s racial background provides sufficient information to predict their behaviours, which is not supported by evidence. This is to say nothing of the fact that the attitudes or beliefs about a group could be (and often are) fundamentally flawed.

It becomes fairly clear, when we consider this definition, that all people are potentially susceptible to this kind of heuristic thinking. I am sure that I have gone on rants about what “conservatives” do and do not believe, when conservativism does not necessitate given beliefs on any topic – rather conservative thinking tends to lead to a cluster of beliefs, many of which are often shared by those that describe themselves as “conservative”. It is a cognitive shortcut, but one that oversimplifies a process that is important to understand – what the mental scaffolding supporting conservative beliefs (or liberal beliefs) is. Simply labeling people as “conservatives” masks that thought process, putting effect in the place of cause.

Similarly, I rankle whenever someone uses the phrase “a racist”, because it commits the same error. Racism is a cognitive process, and as such exists as the engine behind actions and attitudes, rather than their essential component. Calling someone “a racist” suggests that there is some kind of binary state of ‘racist’ and ‘not racist’ in which people can exist. It supposes further that when someone performs an action or voices an attitude that is itself racist, that it is their existence in the first of these binary conditions that is primarily responsible – as though there is something organically racist within them that doesn’t exist in the general population. You know, the general population of ‘not racists’.

Of course it’s trivially easy to recognize the fallacious thinking at work here. All we have to do is look back over the last few decades and note the monumental rate of spontaneous remission that happened in ‘racists’. A sudden seroconversion that has removed all the malignant racist cells and replaced them with healthy non-racistocytes. Or, perhaps racism isn’t quite so simple as that. When we see racism as simply a product of human cognitive shortcuts, the idea of being “a racist” starts to fall apart. After all, if we’re all susceptible to racist thoughts and behaviours (that are, for most of us, subconscious), then can anyone be described as “not racist”? Does it exist on some kind of continuum like the DSM where people that exhibit a certain pattern of behaviour can be diagnosed with “racist personality disorder”?

No. Racism is best understood as the product of ideas, both conscious and unconscious, about other people, and our tendency to try and reduce people to convenient labels (like… oh, I dunno… ‘a racist’). I can certainly understand why people like to use this term, because it allows them to preserve their self-concept of being a good person and scapegoat racist activities as the product of “racists”. Once blame has been assigned in this way, then the speaker can dust her/his hands off and say “it’s not my problem – I’m not a racist.” However, that simply means the problems never get solved, because the only people whose self-concept allows them to brand themselves as being “a racist” are proud of that appellation.

This is why I am in favour of using my own definition of racism, because it renders the idea of being ‘a racist’ completely ridiculous. While it may be convenient to describe people as being ‘a racist’, it distracts from what is actually happening behind the scenes in such a way as to increase societal inertia when it comes to dealing with race issues. It is far more accurate and useful to think of racism as a set of cognitive conditions that encourage a certain kind of behaviour – conditions that are present in us all. What this allows us to do is confront our own biases – no matter how uncomfortable they might make us – and in so doing, make positive changes to minimize the harms they may cause.

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Late post

I have had visitors from out of town this past week, and have been unable to find blogging time. I have a post sketched out for today, but it’s not written yet. My apologies to those of you who were hoping to read a new Monday Thought Piece today – it will go up, I’m just not sure when. Your patience is appreciated.

Movie Friday: Fear of Numbers

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Here’s why:

When Carl Sagan died, there was a hole left for a science educator that could engage with average people and get them excited by new scientific concepts. I feel like that role has gone to Dr. Tyson, though I’m sure he would forswear the comparison. I had a conversation with a couple of friends and raised the point that like basic math skills and basic language skills (although still not in many cases), it should be a prerequisite of having a career as a scientist that you can communicate your research with ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists). If the scientific community can’t manage to bring the fire of the gods to the people (I am making a Prometheus allusion), then what are they (we) doing this for?

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Crisis in Somalia

I am growing increasingly concerned with the situation in Somalia. It is a problem that can very quickly develop into a major international crisis with wide-spread human and policy implications. It is within our power to act now to avoid it, but it doesn’t seem that this crisis is getting much traction with world governments.

I have written down some of my thoughts over at Canadian Atheist:

So even if you don’t buy the hippy-dippy “human suffering” and “think of the children” arguments usually put forward to elicit aid in times of great human need, you’ve got to realize that this is a crisis that effects you personally. If we act now, we can put the genie back in the bottle – if we wait too long, then we’re all going to have a much bigger problem on our hands. A problem we may not be able to solve.

I’ve written a letter to my MP (more on that later, once I get a response from her directly), and hopefully there will be some pressure on the federal government to take the lead on this. It affects them directly, and they can avoid a shitstorm on a planetary scale if they react now.

Anyway, read the article over at CA, and keep an eye out for this issue. If you can afford it, consider donating a few dollars to the humanitarian aid effort.

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